Minors From Execution
Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
Posted April 19 2004
Florida took a small but important step toward making
its criminal law more humane and effective when a state Senate
committee last week approved a bill to raise the minimum age for
capital punishment to 18. Unfortunately, the measure still faces a
potentially bumpy road to passage.
The bill would prohibit
the execution of anyone who was under the age of 18 when he or she
committed a capital crime. Instead, it would impose a penalty of
life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
the support of the state's top legal and law enforcement officials,
Attorney General Charlie Crist and Department of Law Enforcement
Commissioner Guy Tunnell. But that may not help if House Speaker
Johnnie Byrd continues to staunchly oppose the measure.
bill has bipartisan support in the Legislature. The Senate bill is
sponsored by Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who is a strong backer of
the death penalty. But he rightly recognizes that juveniles are
different from adults in that they don't fully understand the
consequences of their actions.
Studies have shown that the
brain continues to develop through late adolescence, and that key
mental functions such as planning, judgment and emotional control
are not fully developed until then. That's why society doesn't let
children drink, drive or vote. They don't have the judgment or
emotional maturity for such activities. So why does the state
pretend children are no different from adults in the criminal
The bill also makes sense from a pragmatic
point of view. Halting such executions would spare the state and
victims' families years of expensive court appeals and ensure that
innocent children are not put to death. Moreover, with the U.S.
Supreme Court scheduled to take up the issue of executing minors,
Victor Crist says that without his legislation, the high court might
invalidate Florida's entire capital punishment law.
his credit, has allowed the bill to be heard in committee. He should
also do the right thing by permitting it to come to a full House
Florida is behind the curve on this issue. The federal
government and 19 states already prohibit the execution of minors,
while 12 other states have no death penalty at all. Florida may
choose not to join that trend, although it should, but the
representatives of the people at least deserve the right to vote on